Music photography and the difficulties of shooting in the dark

Music photography and the difficulties of shooting in the dark

I bitterly remember the time when I was asked to photograph a band in a dark whisky bar. The light was so low (Candlelight plus some disco lights in purple, orange and green) and in no way, the camera could focus. The tiny pinhole of modern DSLR’s viewfinder didn’t let me focus manually either. I was watching the band playing hide and seek in the dark in frustration. My equipment was too modest for the job, but I doubt even having the best professional cameras could have changed anything for the better then. After that night, I studied and thought a lot about ways to do better if I had another photoshoot in similar conditions. Choices of lenses, flashes, autofocus method, post processing choices, noise reduction and composition re-evaluated and re-thought.

Recently I was asked to do another photo shoot for the band Big Boss Groove, in Mawson Club, Canberra. When I entered the club I realised I’m going to have a difficult night; the environmental light was nonexistent and harsh disco lights in red, green and purple were used on a corner of a stage, flashing on musicians faces.

I realised that Canon 5D Mark II can’t focus in that light if I insist on using single point focus. So I switched to full autofocus, something I rarely do, and also switched to burst shooting. To my surprise, results were better than waiting forever for the camera focus on a single point. Of course, I had to pick and choose in-focus photos from a collection about twice the number I usually shoot normally, which was frustrating, but I didn’t return from the event empty handed.

I like nightclub’s spotlights. They are interesting and can be used as a strong compositional element, provided that light designers plan them carefully. Otherwise, they distort the colour channels of every object they hit in a way that is irrecoverable in post processing. Also, they make the focusing in low light even more difficult.

Because of very low light, I broke the rule of not using flash for some shots. Using Nikon SB-700 pointed to the ceiling and the diffuser, I took some of the most difficult to expose angles.

Here you can see the results of my photo shoot and judge yourself how much I was successful in taking successful shots in such a challenging environment. Comments are welcome.

Big Boss Groove at Mawson Club - 2016

Kasra Yousefi

My name is Kasra Yousefi. I’m a graphic designer, teacher and photographer, living in Canberra, ACT.

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